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When an alligator meets a shark, one of them eats the other

The Indian Express logoThe Indian Express 13-11-2017 kabir firaque

a bird swimming in water next to a body of water: An American alligator captures a nurse shark at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. Photo provided by James C Nifong. (US Fish and Wildlife Service) © Provided by Indian Express An American alligator captures a nurse shark at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. Photo provided by James C Nifong. (US Fish and Wildlife Service) Nifong, a Kansas State University zoologist, performed his PhD studies on the use of marine habitats by American alligators. His co-author is Russell H Lowers, a NASA scientist who has done previous research on alligators for the Kennedy Space Center.

The possibility that alligators may prey on sharks struck Nifong during research for his PhD. “I am also an avid fisherman, catching many small sharks and rays in the same location I was studying large alligators,” Nifong said. “I began to wonder if alligators do indeed consume sharks and rays.”

The earliest evidence of such consumption recorded in the study is from 1997, when marine turtle researcher M Frick reported instances of alligators consuming a bonnethead shark and a lemon shark in Florida, but without photographs. In 2003, a US Fish and Wildlife Society staff member photographed an alligator capturing and consuming a nurse shark in an estuarine mangrove shark. And in 2006, naturalist Judy Cooke photographed an alligator consuming a bonnethead shark in a tidal salt marsh. Large American alligators potentially consume immature bull sharks, too, to some extent, the study suggests, citing an overlap of habitats in Florida.

Between 2008 and 2011, a series of alligator-stingray interactions were recorded in estuarine habitats in Florida. One alligator was captured holding an Atlantic stingray between her jaws, before the latter got away. Two other captured alligators had stingray barbs in their jaw and neck.

For sharks preying on American alligators, the study cites a series of published eyewitness accounts in Florida. In 1877, The Fishing Gazette published accounts of an epic skirmish in a tidal inlet, where hundreds of alligators and sharks had congregated to feed on schools of fish. In the days following the clash, many carcasses of both alligators and sharks were reportedly washed ashore.

Another published account, in 1884, described a shark biting an American alligator in the thoracic region, which severed it into two, after which the shark reportedly consumed one of the halves. A third account, in 1888, described a clash in which sharks reportedly removed the forelimbs and portions of the tail of some alligators.

To return to Lake Placid, crocodiles too have been reported to have fed on sharks. The study notes that besides American alligators, five more crocodilian species — American crocodile, Morelet’s crocodile, estuarine crocodile, mugger, and Nile crocodile — frequent marine and estuarine ecosystems, and are large enough to consume sharks. The study cites published accounts of estuarine crocodiles consuming bull sharks in Australia, as well as an examination, in 1961, of the stomach contents of a Nile crocodile, which included the remains of two shark species.

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